Vatican approves amended constitutions for Legionaries of Christ

Vatican City — Marking a significant step in an extensive process of the reform of the Legionaries of Christ, the Vatican approved the congregation's amended constitutions.

The approval of the final constitutional text Oct. 16 by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life was part of a Vatican-led effort to help the religious community clarify and better define its fundamental norms and charism. The Legionaries published news of the approval and the new constitutions on their website Saturday.

The new and amended constitutions "describe the specific way each of us should live religious life in the Legion," and they are part of "the path that will guide us to holiness and apostolic fruitfulness in serving the church and men and women," Fr. Eduardo Robles Gil, general director of the Legionaries, said in a letter to members.

"The constitutions contain the fundamental norms to preserve the charism of the congregation and help it thrive," said a press release on the order's website.

The final 110-page constitutional text incorporates the Vatican's revisions and changes to the text approved by the Legionaries during an extraordinary general chapter in January and February.

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Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz and Archbishop Jose Rodriguez Carballo, respectively prefect and secretary of the congregation for religious, had set up a commission to study the proposed constitutions.

In the constitutions the Vatican did not approve references to the Legionaries of Christ's connection to the Regnum Christi movement. The statutes of Regnum Christi, a lay movement with branches of consecrated men and consecrated women, are still being revised, the Vatican said.

Part of the overall reform process is spelling out how the branches of Regnum Christi relate to one another and, particularly, how to give the consecrated men and women greater autonomy from the priests of the Legionaries of Christ in their daily lives and apostolic work while still promoting cooperation.

One of the key Vatican criticisms of the old constitutions of the Legionaries was that it attempted to control every aspect of the members' lives.

According to the Legionaries' press release, the new constitutions simplify and reduce the constitutions' numbered paragraphs from 872 to 235, enabling "the members to focus on the essential," the Legionaries said.

"The exhortative tone of the previous constitutions has been removed," it said, opting instead for a text that attempts to explain the "spiritual and theological motives behind the norms being proposed."

The congregation's charism has been clarified, it said, defining it as: "In their mission of forming apostles, Christian leaders at the service of the church, Legionaries make present the mystery of Christ gathering the apostles around him, revealing to them the love of his heart, forming them and sending them out to collaborate with him to build up his kingdom."

The new constitutions lay out new ways for authority to be structured and exercised, it said, following canon law more closely so that "authority is exercised directly by the superior in question" and term limits are set.

Decentralizing responsibilities and the establishment of councils to aid superiors in decision-making are part of a new way of ensuring the superior is answerable to "the community called together in Christ and not a mere representative of a higher instance of authority," it said.

Other changes, it said, included:

  • Making sure that spiritual directors and confessors "are distinct from the superiors of the congregation" and may be approached with greater freedom of conscience.
  • Letting individuals discern their own vocation "and freely choose for it," while providing different stages of formation for people of different ages and circumstances.
  • Encouraging all Legionaries to cooperate and "participate in the overall pastoral program of the local church" where they find themselves.

In its final approval, the Vatican congregation made five "general observations" and 27 detailed observations about the most significant changes it required in the final text. Among them were:

  • Articles defining the "purpose and spirit of the congregation" needed to include references to Scripture.
  • "Clear references to the Code of Canon Law," where applicable, were needed to "help people interpret those numbers correctly."
  • There were no direct or indirect references to church documents about consecrated life from the Second Vatican Council or post-conciliar teachings in the draft text of their constitutions.
  • "The word 'habit' should be used instead of the word 'uniform' " when talking about what Legionary priests wear.
  • A norm should be added outside the constitutions that sets a minimum age or number of years since an individual's profession of vows before the general director can "permit the donation of one's goods" or assets.

The constitutions only address the institute's governance and the discipline, admission, formation and sacred vows of its members, the Legionaries said. That is why other policies and issues, like child protection programs against abuse and the status of the order's disgraced founder, Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, were not dealt with in the final text.

Both the Legionaries of Christ and Regnum Christi were founded by the late Maciel, who was condemned by the Vatican for having sexually abused boys in his seminaries and fathering children. Pope Benedict XVI ordered an apostolic visitation of the Legionaries and Regnum Christi in 2009 and appointed a papal delegate to oversee the groups as they reform their communities.

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